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means of grace, duties, or the improvement of their talents. But enough has been said to show, that we are called to conflict with evil spirits, who know where we are most vulnerable, and when most off our guard ; whose fiery darts are as suited to excite our passions, as the spark is to kindle the most inflammable materials; who constantly aim to deceive, defile, discourage, or impede our course; and with whom we must expect every day to wrestle, though some are comparatively evil days, when they have peculiar advantages in assaulting us.
The believer is also engaged in an arduous conflict with this evil world, which is Satan's grand engine in all his stratagems and assaults. He uses the things of the world as his baits, or proposed premiums, by which to allure men to disobedience. “ All,” or some of “ these will I give thee,” is still one grand argument in his temptations. Nor is this only the case when the conduct suggested is evil in itself, and wealth, honour, or pleasure is annexed to it; but more commonly he prevails by seducing us into an inexpedient or excessive use or pursuit of worldly things. Thus ambushments are concealed in every business, connection, relation, recreation, or company; and the world prevails against us by inducing us to waste our time, to mispend what is entrusted to us, and to omit opportunities of usefulness. Moreover, what we call the evil things of the world are employed by Satan, to deter us from the profession of our faith, and the performance of our duty: thus many are seduced into sinful compliances, and led to renounce or dissemble their religion, lest they should be ridiculed, reproached, forsaken of their friends, or exposed to hardships and persecutions; and then they flatter themselves that this prudence will enable them to do the more good, till the event confutes the vain imagination. Near relations, beloved friends, liberal benefactors, admired superiors, as well as powerful opposers, are often dangerous foes in this respect. Riches and poverty, youth and old age, reputation and authority, or the contrary, have their several snares ; whilst politeness and rude insolence, company and retirement, assault the soul in different ways. These few hints may show, in what the believer's conflict consists, and to what continual dangers it must expose him.
When, indeed, we seriously consider the variety of those obstacles which interrupt our course, the number, power, and malice of our enemies, the sinfulness and treachery of our own hearts, our weakness, and our exposed condition; we may well say, “ who is sufficient for these things?" Or what hope is there of success in this unequal contest? But a proper attention to the Scriptures will convince us that there is no ground for despondency, or even for discouragement: as the Lord assures us, that he will strengthen, assist, and uphold us, and never forsake his redeemed people. We ought not, therefore, to fear our enemies; because he will be with us; “and if God be for us, who can be against us?" Or who can doubt, but he that is in us is greater than he that is in the world? And this was typically intimated in the promises made to Israel, in respect of their wars with the Canaanites and other nations, which were shadows and figures of the good fight of faith, (Exod. xiv. 14 ; Deut. vii. 17, 18; Josh. X. 25, 40: 1 Sam. xiv. 6; 2 Chron. xiv. 11 ; Isa. xli. 10–15; liv. 15—17.) We are, therefore, exhorted “ to be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might;" for “ they that wait on the Lord, renew their strength;" and Jehovah, in whom is everlasting strength, is become our salvation. All power in heaven and earth is vested in the Lord our Righteousness: he is head over all things to his church; and his servants have always found, that in proportion as they simply trusted in him, “they could do all things;" and that “when they were weak, then were they strong ;" for the “ power of Christ rested upon them,” (2 Cor. xii. 9—11; Phil. v. 13.) He restrains and moderates as he sees good, the assaults of our outward enemies, or confounds their devices, and defeats their deep-laid machinations; all providential dispensations are directed by, him, nor can any tribulation or temptation exceed the bounds he assigns them, though all the powers of earth and hell should combine against one feeble
saint: whilst the Holy Spirit communicates strength to our faith, fear, love, hope, patience, and every principle of the new man; imparts strong consolations and heavenly joys; effectually restrains the energy of corrupt passions, and disposes us to self-denial, to bear the cross, to persevere in welldoing, and to dread sin, and separation from Christ, or even dishonouring him, more than any other evil that can befal us. Supported, strengthened, and encouraged in this manner, believers have in every age been enabled “ to fight the good fight of faith,” and to “overcome every foe by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony, and have not loved their lives unto the death,” (Rev. xii. 11.) Nay, they have generally acquitted themselves most honourably when their adversaries were most formidable, and their temptations apparently most invincible ; because they were then most simply dependent on, and most fervent in praying for the all-sufficient grace of the Lord Jesus, and most stedfast in contemplating his sufferings and the glory that followed.
In order to maintain this conflict with good hope of success, we must take to ourselves and “put on the whole armour of God.” Conscious sincerity in our profession of the gospel must be “as the girdle of our loins," without which we shall be entangled and embarrassed in all our conduct ; an habitual obedient regard to our Lord's commands, as the rule of righteousness must be our breast-plate, in facing our foes: whilst a distinct knowledge, and cordial reception of the “ gospel of peace," and the way of access, pardon, reconciliation, and acceptance in the divine Saviour, must be “the shoes of our feet,” our only effectual preparation for firmly standing our ground, or comfortably marching to meet our assailants. Above all, faith or a firm belief of the truths, and reliance on the promises of God, must be our
“shield,” with which we may ward off and extinguish the “ fiery darts of Satan,” and prevent their fatal effects: hope of present support and heavenly felicity must be as a helmet to cover our head in the day of battle ; and with the plain testimonies, precepts, promises, and instructions of the word of God, as “ with the sword of the Spirit,” we must (after our Lord's example) repel the tempter, and so resist him, that he may flee from us (Eph. vi. 10–18; 1 Thess. v. 5, 6.) In short, “ the weapons of our warfare are not carnal:” worldly wisdom, philosophical reasonings, and our own native strength and resolution (like Saul's armour, when put upon David,) can only encumber us: but when conscious of our weakness and unworthiness, and distrusting our own hearts, we “ strive against sin, looking unto Jesus," relying on his power, truth, and grace, and observing his directions; when we aim to do his will, to seek his glory, and copy his example ; then indeed we are armed for the battle : and however men may despise our weapons (as Goliath did David the shepherd with his staff, his sling, and stones,) we shall not be put to shame in the event, but shall be made more than conquerors over every inward and outward foe. This armour is prepared in Christ " our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption;" and in “his fulness of grace:" we take it to ourselves by " the prayer of faith,” by searching and meditating on the Scriptures, and attendance on the means of grace: by watchfulness, sobriety, habitual circumspection and caution, &c., we put it on and keep it bright: and thus we are continually prepared for the conflict, and not liable to be surprised at unawares, or to fall into the ambushments of our vigilant enemies, (Matt. xxvi. 41 ; Luke xxi. 34–36; Rom. xiii. 11–14; 1 Pet. v. 8, 9.) And when we live at peace with our brethren, and pray for, warn, counsel, and encourage them also; we fight the good fight, as a part of the great army which is enlisted under the Redeemer's standard, to wage war against sin, the world, and the powers of darkness.
As far as we are enabled in this manner successfully to oppose our own corrupt passions, and various temptations, we gain victories which afford ́us present comforts, lively hopes, and discoveries of the Lord's love to our souls ; and hereafter “ glory, honour, and immortality.” Our captain assures every one of his soldiers of this inestimable recompense; and if they are slain in
the conflict, this will only put them more speedily in possession of the conqueror's crown. In respect of others, our warfare is directed to the encouragement and help of our fellow-soldiers; the salvation (not the destruction) of our fellow-sinners; the benefit of all around us; and above all, the honour of our divine Saviour, by the spread of his gospel among men. Our bold profession of the truth, our exemplary conduct, expansive benevolence, fervent prayers, improvement of talents, and unremitted attention to the duties of our several stations, with quietness and prudence, as well as zeal, promote these ends: the religion of Jesus is thụs continued from age to age, by the conversion of sinners to the faith: and though the seed of the serpent still bruises the Redeemer's heel in the sufferings of his people, yet Satan is, as it were, put under the feet of every true Christian at death, and Christ will at length finally and completely crush his head, whilst all his faithful soldiers shall attend his triumphs and share his glory.
It must appear from this compendious view of our conflicts, that all who are really engaged in them, experience a variety of changing emotions in their minds, to which others remain entire strangers. They must often mourn their ill success, or that of the common cause, or rejoice in the advantages attained or hoped for. Sometimes they will be ashamed ånd alarmed, by being baffled ; and at others they will resume courage and return to the conflict. They will always come far short of that entire victory over their appetites, passions, and temptations, to which they aspire; they cannot therefore be so calm as indifference would render them. Much selfdenial must he required in such a case, and perpetual fears of being surprised by the enemy Yet their very alarıns, tears, groans, and complaints, are evidences that they are Christ's disciples : their joys (with which a stranger intermeddleth not) far more than counterbalance their sorrows, and they can often triumph in the assured hope of final victory and felicity, even amidst the hardships and sufferings of the field of battle.
On the Privileges Enjoyed by the True Believer.
The sacred oracles continually teach us, that the upright servant of God, (notwithstanding his mourning for sin, and all his conflicts, fears, chastenings and tribulations) is favoured and happy above all other men, even in this present world; for when the apostle observed, that “if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most miserable," he only meant, that if a Christian could be deprived of the hope of heaven, and all those earnests, consolations, and lively affections which result from it, his peculiar trials, his tenderness of conscience, his antipathy to sin, and his thirstings after God and holiness, would be superadded to the ordinary burthens of life, without any proportionable counterpoise to them. But as this is not, and cannot be the case, so the Christian, with the hope of glory, and his other peculiar privileges, may be, and actually is, in proportion to his diligence and fruitful. ness, of all men the most happy. In order to evince this truth, it may be useful to appropriate this Essay to the consideration of the most distinguished privileges of the real Christian, which no other man in the world can share with him, for they constitute “a joy with which a stranger intermeddleth not ;" “ the secret of the Lord, which is with them that fear him," (Psal. xxv. 14: Prov. xiv. 10; Rev. ii. 17.) And it may be premised, that a disposition, supremely to desire, and diligently to seek after all these blessings as the felicity in which our souls delight, and with which they are satisfied, is one grand evidence that we are actually interested in them.
I. Every real Christian is actually pardoned and justified in the sight of God: and “ blessed is the man whose trangression is forgiven,” &c. (Psal. xxxii.1, 2; Rom. iv. 6–8). Among a number of eondemned criminals, that man would be deemed the happiest who had obtained the king's pardon, though others were more accomplished, or better clothed; for he would expect, in cheerful hope, the opening of his prison door, to set him at liberty from his confinement, and to restore him to the comforts of life; and this hope would render the temporary hardships of his situation more tolerable: whereas the rest would dread the hour when they were to be brought out of their cells to an ignominious and agonizing execution, which prospect would add to the gloom and horror of the dungeon. We are all criminals: death terminates our confinement in this vile body, and this evil world: at that important moment, the pardoned sinner goes to heaven, the unpardoned sinner drops into hell; and, except as the one has his views darkened by temptation, or by a fatherly rebuke for his misconduct; or, as the other has his fears obviated by infidelity, or dissipated by intoxicating pleasures and pursuits, the very thought of this closing scene, and its most interesting consequences, must have a vast effect upon the inward feelings of their minds, during the uncertain term of their remaining lives. Nothing can be more evident, than that the Scripture declares the sins of all believers to be actually pardoned, and their persons completely justified. “ There is,” says the apostle, no condemnation for them that are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh,' but after the Spirit,” (Rom. viii. 1, 33, 34); " for who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect, whom he justifieth? Or who shall condemn those for whom Christ died and rose again,” &c. And our Lord rot only assures us, that "he who believeth is not condemned,” but also that “ he hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation,” (John iii. 14—21 ; v. 24). The same privilege was proposed to the Old Testament church, when the prophet, stating repentance and conversion as the concomitants and evidences of true faith, declares in the name of Jehovah, “ that if the wicked man will turn from all his sins, and do that which is lawful and right—all his transgressions that he hath done shall not be mentioned to him," &c. (Ezek. xviii. 21, 22, 27). In other places the Lord speaks of “ blotting out the sins of his people, and remembering them no more ;” of “ casting them into the depths of the sea;" and of “not imputing iniquity,” (Isa. xliii. 25; xliv. 22; Jer. xxxi. 34; Mic. vii. 19). The apostles assures us, that all who believe are justified from “all things;” that the blood of Christ cleanseth them “ from all sin;" and that even little children in Christ have their sins forgiven them, for his name's sake, (Acts iii. 19; xiii. 38, 39 ; 2 Cor. v. 19; i John i. 7; ii. 12.) So that the forgiveness and justification of believers are stated to be already past; and their deliverance from condemnation is not represented as a future contingency, but as secured to them by an irrevocable grant: “
being justified by faith, they have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ."
But, though this be the privilege of all true believers without exception, yet the actual assurance that the blessing belongs to them, is possessed only by some, and only at times, even by many of these : for true faith may be very weak, and it may connect with a confused judgment, a considerable degree of ignorance, many prejudices or mistakes, and sometimes a prevalence of carnal affections. So that a man may believe with a trembling faith, and cry out with tears, “ Lord help my unbelief :" or he may firmly credit the testimony, and rely on the promises of God, with a full persuasion of his power and willingness to perform them; and yet doubt whether he do not presume and deceive himself, in supposing his faith to be of a saving nature: in various ways a man may doubt whether he be a true believer, though he do not doubt but that Christ will certainly save all true believers. Nay, the frame even of a real Christian's mind, and the present tenor of his conduct, may render such doubts reasonable and the necessary consequence of faith : for if a man yield to those evils, which the Scripture enumerates as marks of un
conversion, the more entirely he credits the Divine testimony, the greater reason' will he have to call his own state in question: and I suppose that when St. Paul told the Galatians, that he stood in doubt of them, he meant to induce them to examine whether they were in the faith, or whether they had hitherto deceived themselves. We are therefore directed to give diligence both to obtain, and to preserve the full assurance of hope,” (Heb. vi. 11; 2 Pet. i. 10): but this would not be proper advice to believers, if saving faith consisted in being sure of an interest in Christ; which doctrine, (though incautiously maintained by some very respectable persons), is evidently suited to discourage feeble believers, and to bolster up the false confidence of hypocrites. In proportion as it is manifest that we are regenerate, that our faith is living, that it works by love, and is accompanied by repentance, and that we partake of the “sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience;" we may be sure that our sins are pardoned, and that all the promises of God shall be accomplished to us. Yet misapprehension, and excessive fear of being deceived in a concern of infinite moment, exclude many, who have these evidences, from enjoying this assurance, except when immediately favoured with the consolations of the Spirit; whilst conformity to the world in this day of outward peace and prosperity, prevents many others from attaining to that decision of character which warrants it ; and an abatement in diligence and fervency of affection causes others to lose the assurance which once they enjoyed, and to walk in doubt and darkness, because they have grieved their holy Comforter. Hence it appears, that the assurance of salvation is rather the gracious recompence of a fruitful and diligent profession of the gospel, than the privilege of all, who are in a state of acceptance : and though all doubting may originate directly or remotely from unbelief ; yet frequently it is the evidence that a man credits the testimony of God, concerning the deceitfulness of the heart, the subtlety of Satan, and the characters of those who are in the broad, and those who are in the narrow way. These same observations are equally applicable to all the other privileges, which we are about to consider : for in every one of them, the distinction between a title to the blessing, in the sight of God, and the actual assurance and enjoyment of it in our own souls should be carefully noted: the former is not affected by the believer’s varied success in his spiritual warfare ; the latter must be continually influenced by the assaults and temptations of the enemy, and by his own conduct respecting them.
II. The true Christian, “ being justified by faith,” “is reconciled to God:” a perfect amity succeeds, and a covenant of peace and friendship is, as it were, signed and ratified ; and therefore he is honoured by the appellation of the friend of God. When we contemplate the infinite majesty, authority, justice, and holiness of the Lord, and contrast with them the meanness, guilt, pollution, provocations, and ingratitnde with which we are chargeable ; when we consider, that he could easily, and might justly have destroyed us; that we cannot profit him, and that he could have created by his powerful word innumerable millions of nobler creatures to do him service; and when we further advert to the enmity of the carnal mind against his omniscience, omnipotence, holiness, righteousness, truth, sovereignty, service, cause, and people: we shall perceive, that we never can sufficiently admire his marvellous love, and our own unspeakable felicity, in being admitted to this blessed peace and friendship with the God of heaven; which is still more enhanced by the consideration, that'“ Christ is our peace, and that he made it for us by the blood of his cross,” (Eph. ii. 14—19; Col. i. 14—22.). Nor can the advantages resulting from it be sufficiently valued : whilst believers, by the grace bestowed on them, are taught to love the character, servants, cause, truths precepts, and worship of God; to hate the things which he hates, to separate from his enemies, and to seek their liberty and felicity in his service; the Lord considers all kindnesses or injuries done to believers, as done to himself; and “ will bless those that bless them, and curse those that curse them." All his perfections, which before seemed